Saturday, May 11, 2013

Week in review (5/5 to 5/11)

Eglin gets a brand-new version of the F-35; two more Alabama contractors tapped for the Airbus project in Mobile; a UAV makes history with a carrier-type arrested landing; small airport towers slated to shut down in June get another three-month reprieve; plans for the former site of the Panama City airport have been unveiled; Pensacola announces more Southwest Airlines flights; and Orbital Science's decision to delay the next flight to International Space Station were among the news items of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

The brand-new Block 2 version of the F-35 arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week. The 58th Fighter Squadron will get 13 more of the F-35s with the upgraded software by the end of the year.

For the first time, pilots will be able to use a series of six sensors embedded in the skin of the F-35 that provide a complete spherical view around the jet, day or night – as if the walls of the plane did not exist.

The addition of at least 16 aircraft this year will add more permanent personnel to the 33rd Fighter Wing, which oversees the school that will train personnel from all military branches and international students. The wing now has more than 1,300 people. (Post)

Hoar Program Management tapped two Alabama contractors for the $600 million Airbus final assembly line at Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex. Birmingham's Brasfield and Gorrie will construct the piles and foundations for the hangar and service building. Dothan's Covenant Steel will be responsible for the building steel. (Post)

Airbus broke ground April 8 on the plant that will build A320 jetliners. Airbus is empowering plant managers to make decisions to assure that its supply chain for Mobile assembly line runs like clockwork. That's what Airbus North America President and CEO Barry Eccleston said May 8 during Aviation Week's Civil Aircraft Manufacturing Conference in Charlotte, N.C.

The first concrete footings are to be poured this week for the plant, the fifth Airbus facility in the U.S. but the first to assemble aircraft. It will be a carbon-copy of the A320 factory in Hamburg, Germany, mirroring the process used when the Tianjin, China, plant was built. (Post)

-- In another Airbus-related story, officials said Air China will add 100 Airbus jetliners to help meet rising travel demand. Analysts believe the order is mainly A320 for short-haul routes. Carriers in China will need 5,260 new planes worth $670 billion through 2031, Boeing forecast in September. China has become the world's biggest source of tourists, overtaking Germany and the United States. (Post)

Here's something of historic significance, and while it's not directly related to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, it's certainly of high interest because of the region's involvement in unmanned systems.

Northrop Grumman and the Navy marked the first arrested landing of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator. The May 4 test was at the Navy's shore-based catapult and arresting gear complex at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

Carrier-based trials are planned for later this month. Why should this interest the region? First of all, Fire Scout and Global Hawk unmanned aerial systems are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and that facility, who knows, may one day build portions of the X-47B. On top of that, Northwest Florida is a major training location for future naval aviators. (Post)

-- On another UAV front, Mississippi confirmed what we all figured to be the case – it put in a bid to land one of those six FAA unmanned aerial system test sites. Several types of drones are built in the state, including Fire Scout and Global Hawks in South Mississippi. It also has a flight lab at Mississippi State University in Starkville.

Fifty sites in 37 states have shown interest in the test sites, which will work to ease drones into the national airspace. Popular Science has ranked what it sees as the seven strongest prospective sites: San Diego, North Dakota, Hancock Field in New York, Sierra Vista in Arizona, Huntsville, Ala., Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, and Dayton, Ohio.

The Mississippi Development Authority points out that the FAA won't provide funding, but Mississippi can use existing assets, including Camp Shelby, Stennis Space Center and Gulf of Mexico test ranges. Mississippi State University would collect data from tests and conduct research, according to the university. Today, Mississippi has about 250 jobs in the sector, but officials hope testing would allow them to multiply that figure. (AP story, Mississippi Business Journal story)

The towers at small airports in Dothan, Ala., and Kiln, Miss., slated to shut down in June, will remain open at least through the end of the fiscal year – September 30. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the recent passage of a bill to free up funds and avoid sequester-related furloughs of some 47,000 FAA employees also provided the money to keep 149 airport towers open. The airport in Kiln is near NASA's Stennis Space Center. (Post)

-- The St. Andrew Bay Land Co. unveiled plans for a large development, including homes, commercial space, a school and marina, on the old airport property. The 704-acre development called SweetBay will include 3,200 homes, 700,000 square feet of commercial space and the University Academy, parks, ponds and green space. The land became available when the airport moved to West Bay. The Airport Authority sold the property to St. Andrew Bay Land Co. for $51.4 million in February 2011. (Post)

-- Southwest Airlines will offer daily nonstop flights to and from Nashville, Tenn., and Houston from Florida's Pensacola International Airport, beginning Nov. 3. Bob Montgomery, vice president of airport affairs for Southwest, said customers will be able to reach 65 destinations from Nashville and Houston. (Post)

-- A month after Commercial Jet announced plans to open a $12 million facility at Dothan Regional Airport, it landed its first big contract. Aeronautical Engineers Inc. of Miami selection of the 400,000-square-foot facility as its fourth authorized conversion center. Commercial Jet provides aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services. (Post)

Orbital Sciences said the first full-up test flight of its Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station will likely slip to September due to a variety of factors, including an engine replacement on the mission's Antares rocket.

The first flight of Orbital's Cygnus resupply freighter, a cargo carrier developed in partnership with NASA, was expected this summer. But Orbital officials decided to swap out one of the AJ26 first stage engines on the spacecraft, adding up to four weeks of prep time. Those engines are tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- Patrick Scheuermann, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., met with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and key members of the state Legislature Wednesday as part of "NASA Day in Baton Rouge." NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility is in New Orleans. MAF workers are making hardware for the Space Launch System heavy-lift launch vehicle and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. (Post)

Col. Jim Slife will be leaving his post as commander of the Air Force's 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., this summer and will be replaced by Col. William West, who commands the 27th Special Operations Group at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. (Post)

-- Capt. Joseph Polanin relinquished command of the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal school at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to Capt. William Noel during the week. The change of command ceremony was at the EOD Memorial across from the school attended by every military bomb technician. More than 1,000 students go through the program each year. (Post)

That school, which trains bomb technicians from all branches of the military, held a ceremony last weekend to mark the deaths of 11 graduates killed in the line of duty last year. Since World War II 298 military bomb technicians have been killed in the line of duty. The 11 men killed last year ranged from 22 to 39 years old. They came from all across the country, serving with the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. (Post)

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